This post is sponsored by Gulf County Tourism and Visit Florida. All opinions are 100% mine.
Last September, our family headed to Gulf County, Florida for the first time. This quaint little beach town went from a place we had never even heard of to one that would forever hold a special place in our hearts. We had such an amazing vacation in Gulf County that it quickly became our new favorite beach destination. Not only is the area gorgeous, but the people are some of the friendliest we’ve ever met. It’s one of those places where you feel right at home, where you’re treated like a local.
Then a short 2 weeks after our trip, disaster stuck.
Hurricane Michael made landfall in the Florida panhandle as a Category 5 hurricane. It was the most powerful, devastating storm to ever hit Florida, the 4th most powerful in American history. My family and I watched the progression of the storm on the news, our stomachs in knots as we thought about the beauty and serenity of this area just weeks prior.
Gulf County is BACK!
Gulf County got hit hard. They were down, but not out. This amazing community came together and worked tirelessly to bring the area back to it’s former glory. Over the months following the storm, I stayed in touch with my contact at the Gulf County Tourism Office. I was thrilled to hear that the rebuilding was coming along so well and that many businesses were back up and running. Gulf County was back! They were open for business and we were more than ready for a return visit.
Happy to be back in Gulf County
Seven months after our first trip, we were loading up the car and hitting the road. On our first visit, little man was only 6 months old. He had just learned to sit unassisted. This time, he was up and moving on his own two feet, ready to take Gulf County by storm with his two furry sidekicks.
We stayed for 5 days and 4 nights in one of the 10 new Port Cottages. It was the cutest little beach cottage right in the center of Port St Joe. It was close to all the restaurants and shops, a short walk to the water, lighthouse, and a really fun pirate ship playground for Parker. It had an amazing pool that we took full advantage of daily. And of course, it was dog friendly. It was a perfect jumping off point for all of our Gulf County adventures.
Come, Play, and Help Gulf County Continue to Bounce Back
While there is still some rebuilding going on, Gulf County is definitely back up and running, ready for tourists. We were so excited to revisit some of our favorite spots, and found a bunch of new ones as well. This area has come so far in just 7 short months. Now they just need the families like ours to come and enjoy the beauty of the area; to spend some time and money here, and to help the economy flourish once again.
8 Reasons Why Families are Heading Back to Gulf County, FL
1. To Cruise St. Joseph Bay
We took a vote and our entire family agreed. Our favorite day was the one we spent out on the water with Bali Hai Charters. We had the pleasure of going on a sunset boat tour with Tim last trip. This time, we were lucky enough to spent most of the day out on his pontoon boat. Everyone, pups included, had an amazing time! That’s right, Bali Hai Charters is dog friendly!! Woo Hoo!
We started our day on the water cruising around the bay. Sun on our faces, wind in our hair. We stopped to admire the sea life, take a refreshing dip in the water. Then Tim took us out to T.H. Stone Memorial St. Joseph Peninsula State Park, which is actually an island at the moment, thanks to Hurricane Michael. The sand is naturally starting to reconnect the park to the mainland, and the county just voted to help the process along, which will allow cars and campers to reach the park again.
2. To Revel in the Untouched Beauty
We’ve been to a LOT of beaches and a LOT of state parks. The beach at T.H. Stone Memorial St. Joseph Peninsula State Park is one of the most beautiful we have ever seen! We were lucky enough to have them entirely to ourselves (save for the hundreds, if not thousands, of birds that were waiting to greet us on the shore). The sand was perfect, the water was clear. The beaches were naturally beautiful, undeveloped and untouched, as they were meant to be.
We strolled along the picturesque beach looking for shells. We built sand castles and swam in the clear waters to our hearts content. When my legs (and heart) tired of chasing little man into the sea (in a seemingly futile attempt to keep him alive and well), we got back on the boat and headed to another spot.
3. To Snorkel in the Crystal Clear Water
The water here is amazingly clear, perfect for snorkeling! Tim found us a nice shallow area in Saint Joseph Bay. Just a few feet deep, it was the perfect place to hang out and play in the water. The dogs swam, Parker splashed happily. Corey and I put on some masks and flippers and set off to see what we could find on the sea floor.
We saw all sorts of aquatic life and found countless sand dollars and sea urchins (which were promptly returned, unharmed). From the boat, we saw numerous schools of manta and sting rays, even a baby shark. It was Corey’s first time snorkeling and he was hooked, instantly.
4. To Taste the Local Flavors
Gulf County has some amazing dining options. The area is dotted with cute little family owned restaurants and local watering holes. We were tickled to see some of our favorite restaurants back open, and we even discovered some new faves! If you’re looking for some REALLY good Italian food, you HAVE to check out Provisons. Their pastas are delicious and their deserts are to die for. We were so excited to go back there on this trip.
For lunch one day, we swung by Dagwood’s, a first for us. We each ordered wraps and smoothies to enjoy on their dog friendly patio before spending the day at the beach. No lie, I think their “Tree Hugger” may be my all-time favorite wrap that I have ever eaten. And their smoothies are so good that 1-year olds are known to try to hog them all.
We also unknowingly stumbled into a Cinco de Mayo party at Pepper’s. I honestly didn’t even realize what day it was until afterwards. But the crowd was lively and the vibe was great. The food is always top notch, as our the margaritas! Parker had a blast people watching and chowing down on some rice and beans. We all love this local spot.
5. To Paddle the Beautiful, Calm Waters
One thing that we didn’t get a chance to do on our first trip to Gulf County that I REALLY wanted to do was kayak. Parker was a bit too young to even attempt it 7 months ago. Now that he’s just over a year old, we figured it was worth a shot. We launched from one of the small rental shops out on Cape San Blas and paddled out into the bay.
The sun was shining, the air was still, and the water was like glass. So smooth, so serene. It was simply a perfect day to paddle. Corey took Roxie on his kayak and I took Parker. It had been a while since Roxie was on a boat or board, but she got her sea legs back quickly and really enjoyed being out on the water again.
Parker didn’t take to it quite as well. He happily looked around at the water and the birds for a few minutes, investigated my paddle. Then between skipping his nap, having the sun in his eyes, and absolutely DETESTING his life jacket, he decided he was done. So after a little while (and a bottle), we decided to paddle over to a nearby park and drop him off at the pier with Daddy so we could paddle a bit longer.
Corey, Roxie, and I paddled around the gorgeous grass “islands” some more. We saw herons and horseshoe crabs, starfish and conch. I’m not sure if Roxie had ever seen birds bigger than she is before, which seemed to leave her both confused and amazed.
Corey had only been kayaking one other time, when he visited us in Texas 8 years ago. I loved being able to share something that I love so much with him. Seeing that same joy on his face that I feel in my soul whenever I’m out on the water was priceless. All in all, it was a great paddle in an absolutely stunning location. I would paddle here every weekend if I could.
6. To Play in the Sand
No Florida vacation would be complete without at LEAST one day at the beach. Especially when the beaches are as nice as the ones in Gulf County. So be sure to grab your towels, sand toys, some snacks, a water bowl for the pups, and head on down to play at the beach.
The best part is that Gulf County beaches are dog friendly, year round. I love that we all got to hang out on the beach together, without having to limit our trips to early in the morning or late in the evening like a lot of other beach destinations.
Gulf County is even doing a really fun Instagram contest this month to celebrate beach-loving pups. To enter, take your furry friend to play in the sand and sea, snap a cute picture, and post it to Instagram during the month of May with the hashtag #MyDogDigsGCFL
For more details and official rules, go to: https://www.visitgulf.com/media-post/mydogdigsgcfl-contest/
7. To Visit the Lighthouse
One of our favorite touristy things to do in any beach town is visit the local lighthouses. We’ve seen almost all of the lighthouses on the North Carolina coast, and a bunch in Florida too. The Cape San Blas lighthouse in Port St Joe is one of the most unique lighthouses that we’ve ever seen.
We decided to go check it out one evening at sunset. It was simply beautiful. I love how you can see the gorgeous color of the sunset right through the structure. They even give tours a few days a week. With so much to do in the Gulf County area, we weren’t able to get a tour in, but it’s definitely on our list next trip.
8. For the Memories
There are WAY more than a handful of reasons to visit Gulf County, Florida, but I hope this gave you a little taste, a little insight into this amazing place. What I can’t adequately convey in words or pictures is the feeling you get when you’re here. The friendliness of the locals, the casual, laid back, yet energetic vibe. The sense of awe that overcomes you as you watch the sun set over the water. The memories that you take away with you after every trip. Because that you need to see and feel for yourself.
I’m so grateful that Hurricane Michael didn’t wipe this amazing place off the map, so that families like ours can continue to share in the awesomeness that is Gulf County year after year. Want to join in on the fun? Head on over to Gulf County’s website and start planning your perfect vacation today!
Questions? Comments? We’d love to hear from you! Leave us a comment below.
Thanks for reading,
Debbie & The Mutts